As we get older, we change. Attitudes, hair colour, viewing preferences, liking for cabbage, beer, chocolate…

Every day we work through the things that seem important and nothing really changes. Except when we look back and everything has. In fact, everything has changed so much we wonder how we didn’t notice.

Of course, hindsight is perfect. 20:20 every time. But how would we behave in 5, 10, 20 years’ time if we were asked the questions being posed today? Would we be a bit more thoughtful about how we choose to meet our targets? Might we take a longer view of the effect our decisions will have?

A fascinating study at UCLA has looked at how we react to the need to make decisions, depending on our circumstances. We’ve already blogged about hyperbolic discounting*, but this study has shown that, if presented with a vision of ourselves in later life, our tendency to invest in that person changes substantially.

Prof. Hal Hershfield at UCLA has been studying responses to visual avatars, designed to represent older versions of us. The data reveals that, when faced with these images, we have to work hard to recognise ourselves. It’s only when we actually see ourselves as we might be in the future, that we become interested in investing in that future self now. The research found that people’s attitudes changed: that the emotional connection they made with their future self meant they were more prepared to invest or save money now for that person’s future wellbeing than if they continued to see themselves as they are today.

Start-ups and some funders think along similar lines. Why would you hamper your business development by putting up barriers that simply satisfy a randomly selected time-based reporting need? This is where it can help to create scenarios of future states that you can work towards. We paint pictures of the future, informed by evidence of consumer responses to emerging technology and competitor activity. With this information, the strategic decisions you make today take on a whole different complexion.

This is a concept that reflects real life. Investments usually pay a higher dividend later than if you take the benefit now. Usually, this makes hyperbolic discounting unattractive – unless, of course, it helps you hit a target that pays out within this incentive cycle.

SME thinking. Start-up thinking. Boot-strap thinking. Call it what you will, but the idea that real innovation and short term-ism can share the same space is one to consider.

Future thinking: it’s what we do at room44.

Drop us a line at and let’s see how we can help each other. Innovation justified.

*Hyperbolic discounting – the tendency for people to choose a smaller reward sooner over a larger reward later.

room44 How can we help?